Wealth Column: 10 steps to financial wellness
Pick one or two financial wellness goals and work on them at your pace. Soon you’ll develop confidence in your ability to achieve the financial success you’ve always wanted.
References to financial wellness are everywhere these days — in updates from your workplace retirement plan to self-help books and the personal finance media.
It’s a hot topic, as people are looking beyond their retirement funds to consider a range of financial health concerns, from mental health and work-life balance to emergency funds and cash management.
What exactly constitutes financial wellness , and how can you achieve it? The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines financial wellness as “a condition wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.” Broadly speaking, the quest for financial wellness begins by setting specific financial goals.
10 steps to financial wellness
Goals should be achievable and might include one or more of the following 10 steps to financial wellness:
- Increase your financial literacy. Read blogs or books on financial matters or sign up for an educational seminar or webinar. Your local public library can be an excellent resource. While much of written content these days is specially directed to specific audiences such as millennials or Gen Xers, a good deal of it is more general in nature. Listen to podcasts. Our firm offers a wealth of resources on the Insights page on our website,
- Create a Net Worth Statement. On one sheet of paper, write down all the assets you own (e.g., your house, stocks, bonds, cash, personal possessions) and subtract from that number everything you owe (e.g., outstanding mortgages, lines of credits, car or college loans, and so forth). This gives you a good picture of your household net worth, a very useful financial planning tool. Be sure to do it each year to see if your net worth is going up or down.
- Track your spending. Even before you can set a budget, you have to have a clear idea about where your money goes each month. Use a notebook or a money tracking app, and record what you spend each day in both “have to spend” and “nice to spend” categories. Often your bank or brokerage firm will have an app that pulls in all the various threads of your spending that can help you set a monthly budget.
- Reduce unnecessary spending. If you’re not getting the most value out of the products and services you buy each week, maybe it’s time to cut back on exotic coffee, video streaming services, or cable services. But don’t cut out all the fun things in your life! Balance is key, so that when you want to splurge on something you really like, you won’t feel regret or guilty about it.
- Increase retirement savings contributions. Consider increasing your contributions each year with every raise you receive, or at least enough to qualify for the employer match. The Tax Code allows you to make catch-up contributions to your 401(k) or IRA after age 50. That said, be careful that you’re not putting too much in these accounts that can whack you with a big tax bill down the road. It’s always a good idea to discuss with a financial adviser to see how boosting your savings applies to your personal situation.
- Pay off bills. Reduce what you owe by paying off loans, credit cards, and other debts (especially that carry high interest rates). I know it sounds nagging, but you should not take on more debt than you can comfortably handle. Shop around for the best deal before taking out a loan, and avoid carrying a balance on your credit cards, if possible.
- Set up or add to an emergency fund. Squirrel away at least six months of living expenses, especially if your job is not secure, or there’s a risk of disability in your family, or if you have an unexpected car or home repair. You don’t need an instant emergency fund, day one — start small and build it up over time. And keep this emergency money in relatively safe, liquid funds. You can always transfer any excess emergency savings to your “long-term” investment account.
- Check your credit report or score. Your rating influences your ability to qualify for credit, and the terms of that credit, so even if you always pay your bills on time, it’s important to check your scores periodically. Plus, with identity theft and credit card fraud cases spiking, you can’t be too careful. If you discover any errors, contact the rating agencies and challenge anything that’s wrong. (You can check your credit score for free one a year through the major rating agencies; visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.)
- Review your asset allocation. At least once a year, sit down with your adviser to determine whether your allocations still match your objectives. Be honest about your expectations, particularly when inflation is running high, and the markets have been volatile. Even if you’re managing your own money, you need to do a self-evaluation about whether your allocation (and risk budget) is still appropriate.
- Work with a financial adviser. Achieving financial wellness is a complex undertaking, even more so if you own lots of assets and/or income sources, have a child with special needs or have a complex tax situation. Having an adviser in your corner can be a big help in these situations. And even if you like to manage most of your financial decisions, having someone to challenge your assumptions and provide a second opinion can be invaluable.
This list may look daunting, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one or two financial wellness goals and work on them at your pace. Soon you’ll develop confidence in your ability to achieve the financial success you’ve always wanted.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Financial well-being resources,” consumerfinance.com. bit.ly/3j0PMSM
Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb are financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on News Radio 830 WCCO on Sunday mornings. Email Bruce and Peg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, LLC, a registered investment adviser. Wealth Enhancement Group and Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services are separate entities from LPL.